At Marin County Bicycle Coalition, we promote the bicycle as a tool for good–for the environment, our health, and our happiness. But under the looming threat of wildfires and natural disasters, we also see the bicycle as a tool for survival.
Over the past weekend, 185,000 people were ordered to evacuate Sonoma County under the threat of a wind-fueled wildfire. Gridlock ensued as thousands took to the roads in their cars at the same time. Fortunately, the evacuation did not take place in eye of the firestorm, and everyone was able to evacuate safely.
But that isn’t always the case, as we learned last year from the Camp Fire in Paradise, CA, where several people died sitting in traffic and many were forced to abandon their cars to flee on foot.
“I knew we had to get out,” she said. “There was no way we were going to make it through in the car.”
With Red Flag Warnings becoming increasingly frequent and the threat of fire on everyone’s minds, now is the time to think about emergency preparedness and create an escape plan, if you haven’t already.
Should a wildfire occur, most areas of Marin County will be susceptible to traffic jams like the one that occurred in Paradise, with hilly neighborhoods funneling traffic onto heavily-congested evacuation routes with few alternatives, if any. In these cases, your car may not be the best escape option.
In addition to being able to circumnavigate traffic jams, bicycles–and especially cargo bikes–are gaining traction as an essential disaster-response tool due to their ability to go where cars cannot, including on sidewalks and pathways. And it’s much easier to get over and around obstacles, like fallen trees or power lines.
As Marin prepares for another Red Flag Warning and Public Safety Power Shutoff, we encourage you to carefully consider escape routes and whether your family will be able to evacuate by car or bike should a wildfire occur.
There’s a quote that’s stuck with me for some time from Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom: “You know why people don’t like liberals? Because they lose. If liberals are so f***ing smart, how come they lose so goddamn always?”
American urbanists and bike advocates are smart, or at least well informed. We know how important cycling is. We are educated about cycling cities in other parts of the world and how they are so much better for health, well-being, economics, traffic, pollution, climate, equity, personal freedom, and on and on.
I used to think calling cars “death machines” was kind of extreme. Then my niece was hit by one.
She was only 9 years old, out with her family in Los Angeles and running toward an ice cream truck. She was hit with such force that most of her front teeth were knocked out. She is lucky to be alive.
Thinking about my niece made me recall all the other times members of my family had been injured by cars. My husband’s grandmother was killed. My aunt and uncle were seriously injured. I was even involved in a hit-and-run in a crosswalk in front of my school when I was a kid and broke my leg.
Most of us have stories like this — a car coming into our lives and unleashing horrendous damage on our loved ones, friends, family and even ourselves.
If you see how cars, streetcars, bikes, and pedestrians use this Swiss street, you can better understand what’s wrong with so many other urban thoroughfares.
Author Norman Garrick
Above is a picture of a pretty typical city street in Zürich, Switzerland.What do you see?
In some ways, this scene represents a kind of Rorschach Test for transportation and urban planning. If you are a passenger on a tram riding on one of the two sets of rails that take up most of the street, this scene represents freedom of movement and a sense that transit is privileged in Zürich. If you’re a pedestrian, this is a relatively comfortable street to be on, with useful services, restaurants, and a few interesting stores (check out the model train store at the corner with Haldenbachstrasse). If you’re on a bike, this, like most other streets in Zürich, is OK, but not great.
A landmark report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released Monday spelled out a grim planetary future in no uncertain terms. If greenhouse gases warm the atmosphere by as much as 1.5 degrees Celsius, the most dire effects of climate change will be unleashed. Coastlines will be submerged, droughts and wildfires exacerbated, coral reefs exterminated, severe food shortages and poverty deepened. And humanity has only a fast-closing 12-year window to make the changes necessary to avoid this fate.